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With more employees continuing to work from home, increasing attention is being placed on the right to disconnect.

The right to disconnect

A right to disconnect allows employees to disconnect from work outside of normal working hours. With a huge cohort of employees working from home on devices that have been issued by the organisation they work for, many staff are finding it difficult to switch off and are increasingly working out of hours. The right to disconnect is therefore a system that works against this.

This right fundamentally means that every employee is able to switch off outside of their normal working hours and enjoy their free time away from work without being disturbed, unless there is an emergency or agreement to do so, for example while ‘on call’. To fully understand how the right to disconnect works in practice, we can turn to our neighbours in Ireland, who have recently introduced a Code of Practice for organisations on how to implement this.

The three key rights enshrined in the Code are:

  • the right of an employee to not have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours.
  • the right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours.
  • the duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (eg, by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours).

Whilst it is always good practice not to expect employees to work out of hours and therefore avoid contacting them during this time, the right to disconnect goes one step further. Not only does it prohibit this behaviour from management, it also gives employees the entitlement to switch off their communication devices and send automated emails when they are not available. The expectation is very much that if a member of staff is contacted out of hours, they are actively encouraged to only respond when back in work.

Why explore this in organisations?

Although it may at first seem beneficial to an organisation that staff are regularly working out of hours to get jobs done and respond to queries, it can actually be very damaging. Staff who are not able to properly rest after a day’s work, and continue the stresses of work out of hours, can become burned out, less productive and disillusioned in their role. This can lead to issues in retention and morale, things that can be very damaging for an organisation as a whole.

The right to disconnect works to counteract this, encouraging and indeed expecting staff to switch off when they are not working. Not only can it help promote greater staff wellbeing, it can also be an effective way for the organisation to demonstrate it cares for its employees, something that can help retain staff and attract new employees.

As more organisations explore ways in which staff can continue to work from home on a more permanent basis, a right to disconnect could prove very appealing for many looking for new work. Organisations should always remember that if they choose not to introduce something of this nature, a competitor may.

Takeaway point

It should be noted that the UK government has not indicated plans to make such a right a legal requirement, nor produce a Code of Practice on the right in the same manner as Ireland and other countries. Nevertheless, as we look to a post-pandemic world that involves more homeworking, it may be something that organisations look to explore.

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